World Peace and Prayer Day 2018
On June 17th, 2017 runners from around Turtle Island gathered at Mission Beach to pray and collect water; a ceremony reserved for the annual opening of World Peace and Prayer Day. At midday, the ceremonial runners began their trek from the waters to Sycuan territory. They trekked from the ocean, past morning commuters, through occupied lands, and eventually made their way to Kumeyaay territory.
I arrived the next day as the morning heat had just begun to peek through the grey clouds I’d awoken to. By the time I reached the Sycuan event grounds, the runners had already convened with revered elders and Chief Arvol Looking Horse to light the sacred fire. A small group was gathered beneath a large white tent, guarded at each corner by peacekeepers dressed in red and black. They formed an inner and larger circle around the people, looking inward and outward; a deep representation of the way one uses their vision as an indigenous person. I asked a peacekeeper present if he was permitted to smile (because Natives can’t do anything without playful teasing) and he said yes, but that his focus was on the safety of those present. Many were movement workers, esteemed elders, and challengers of colonizer authority.
He crossed his arms in an X, signaling someone I couldn’t see and with a quick smile, walked to meet them. I circled back through the crowd and identified those that I knew. Many were from camp in Standing Rock, others met through my work with Line 3, and more still familiar to me though they were, at the time, strangers. Over the next 3 days, they would become cherished tiospaye (extended family).
Before we arrived in California, Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th generation keeper of the sacred Buffalo Calf pipe, delivered this message to the people;
“In our prophecies it is told that we are now at the crossroads: Either unite spiritually as a global nation, or be faced with chaos, disasters, diseases, and tears from our relatives’ eyes.”
Many of us in attendance had seen firsthand the devastation created in our territories by division and a lack of connection to the land. The medicines we carried from our homelands to be offered to the sacred fire doubled as prayers, asking that our sacred hoop be mended and that in the future, the circle be unbroken. Leaders from all over these lands came together to raise their hearts and fists to the future, all that we cannot see or know, and all that we pray will come to be.
Ladonna Bravebull Allard, co-founder of Sacred Stone Camp, stood to speak about the water, the roots growing out of indigenous feet straight into the earth, and the ways in which our human rights had been violated in Standing Rock. Dr. Dawn Martin-Hill spoke of the efforts of her academic community at McMaster University to bring light and love to the Lubicon Cree, a First Nations community whose water supply had been decimated by the Alberta Tar Sands. Cody Lookinghorse, teenage activist and son of Dr. Dawn Martin-Hill and Chief Arvol Lookinghorse, stood to speak about the power that youth hold in taking charge of their journeys and making necessary policy changes to ensure existence for all humans, but most importantly, our unci maka (grandmother earth). Paula Horne-Mullen, an accomplished traditional Dakota singer and artist, shared the story of the healing power of our plant relatives; in particular our sage medicine, that has the ability to change and save lives. Rita Kay, an aboriginal person of the Bundjalung Nation in so-called Australia shared her traditional song and dance after sharing the exquisite and impactful story of her mother and aunts that fought for aboriginal visibility and land preservation.
Speaker after speaker took the stage to speak about their life experiences as indigenous peoples standing in the face of unending adversity, and with each speaker, new life was breathed into break time conversations. How could we solve all that ails us? How could we better show up for, and support one another?
We had found out on our second day together that merely ten miles away, young immigrant children were being held in a detention center. Each detainment facility was named “Casa de” or “house of” something, depending on the city they were held in. Myself, along with my partner and a dear sister, left during our lunch break to scout the building. The conversations held that morning and in the day prior rang in our ears and begged the question again, “How could we better show up for, and support one another?” That night, when I took to the stage for the evening session close, just before dinner, I offered three things.
The first offering I made was a personal account of my life, as a young leader mentoring even younger leaders, in Standing Rock. The second offering was a song that had been gifted to me in a time of great need. The third offering, was a solution to the question we’d been revisiting during our time together. I asked the people to join me the next day to visit the detention center to offer songs and prayers to the children inside. Women gathered around me to share the Strong Woman’s Song and it was decided; the next day we would lift what we could from our spirits and send it, in person to our young relatives.
The morning came bright and hot, and a ceremony beside the sacred fire was performed. People made their way back to base camp and upon arrival were geared up and ready to to go. Local organizers forewarned that the facility we were visiting was one of the nicer housing centers, whose employees were genuinely trying to care for the children. Many of them attested that they discouraged protesters from visiting that site in particular because it only furthered the desperation of the employees inside. I was lost as to what to do with many folks beside me, ready to go, and more still who discouraged our departure.
I was honored and blessed at this moment to turn to my elders for support. With great respect to the local organizers, I was encouraged by my elders to continue on the path I had started down. Prayers and songs, said one auntie, were not protests. They were merely medicine in a different format. We piled into cars after parting in peace and made our way to the facility. The fifteen minute drive was short and auntie Ladonna and I sang along to The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and Bill Withers before parking alongside a nondescript brown building.
We spent the next few hours assembled before the building as a few quiet security guards watched in silence, singing to and praying for the children. We were told that just that morning, 63 more arrivals had come to the facility and that the “overflow” kids were sent as far away as Illinois and New York. Thousands of miles from where they had crossed the border and possibly even thousands still from their ancestral homelands. Each of us parted with saddened spirits, and one thing was clear:
We are all nations of nomadic peoples whose hearts know no borders.
That afternoon we had our final meal together. People who had, three days prior, stood side by side, now gathered hand in hand to pray together. Chief Arvol’s soft and striking words settled over us all and the prayer reverberated from our palms down through our bodies, pushing deep into the earth. Our planning brought us to share space but prayer will keep us together, he said. We pray for every living thing, those we see here, those we cannot see, and all that fills the spaces in between. Mitakuye Oyasin.